Where the Streetcars Used To Go


Where the streetcars used to go

That’s the title of a wonderful new interactive map by San Franciscan Chris Arvin. We could yammer on about how it does a great job of showing you the extent of streetcars in three different eras, and how Chris has selected some choice photos to illustrate the various lines, but just click the link above and go find out for yourself.  It’s terrific.

One comment, though. One of the many transit advocates who posted Chris’ great work to Facebook commented, we “demolished our public transit.” That’s simply not true. The vast majority of those streetcar routes shown in the 1940 map still exist, as Muni bus routes (most of them zero-emission trolley coaches, as the streetcars were).

A few streetcar routes that were eliminated were legacy routes established back in the days of multiple companies, when later-established streetcar routes often meandered around to avoid streets already occupied by competitors.

Muni realigned their routes in the 1980s to reflect changing travel patterns of San Franciscans. Buses were far easier to reroute than streetcar lines would have been. No question in our mind that a few of those conversions, such as the B-Geary, were a huge mistake and with foresight, other lines could have sparked higher density development (such as the 12 line on its private right-of-way in the middle of Sloat Boulevard, had it been rerouted through the Twin Peaks Tunnel — which could have served a second Parkmerced, as the M line still serves the original). But on balance, the level of transit service was preserved for San Franciscans. Now to implement logical, helpful streetcar extensions, such as to Fort Mason, the E-line through Mission Bay and Dogpatch, and a branch of the T-line out Evans Avenue to serve Hunter’s Point and enable more density among its route (but that’s another story).

Thanks again for this great gift to the city, Chris Arvin!

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Support for Fort Mason Extension

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The long-proposed historic streetcar extension west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason Center is gaining momentum.

What you see above is how the terminal inside Fort Mason could look. The streetcars in the photo would turn left just before that wall at top and enter the historic 1914 railroad tunnel to reach Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, then on to the Ferry Building and beyond.

Yesterday, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency presented a unanimous resolution to the SFMTA Board of Directors supporting the extension. SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan responded with his own strong support for the extension.

Several members of the public added their public endorsement, including Marina District resident Mike Wilmar. Fort Mason Center Board Chair Jim Chappell recounted how the lack of direct Muni connections to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain makes it hard for many non-profit groups to base themselves at Fort Mason. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher offered his opinion that the project may have been slow to take root within SFMTA staff because the environmental work, now complete, was performed by the National Park Service, whose property forms half the extension’s 0.85 miles. Now, though, with various obstacles cleared away, it’s time to move forward, he said.

The photo above is taken from the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement. It’s a huge document, but you can download individual chapters, or the whole thing, here.

There is much more to this story, and we will have it for our Members in the next issue of our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track. (If you’re not a member, you can join now and get the current issue sent to you, or request it electronically.)  We will also post further developments in the story here. Also, there is a new Facebook group, independent of Market Street Railway, that also supports the extension. On Facebook, search for “@fortmasonstreetcar” or “Bring Streetcars to Fort Mason Project” and Like that page. Visible public support, especially from those who work and live along the route, in the Marina District, at Fort Mason, or in Fisherman’s Wharf, is critical to its success.

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Reincarnation in PCC Cities

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Muni’s PCC streetcars are painted in tribute to most of the 30+ North American cities that once operated them. Streetcars had disappeared long ago from all but seven of those PCC cities: Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Newark, Pittsburgh, Shaker Heights, Ohio, and San Francisco itself. Now, though, there is a real renaissance of streetcar operation among former PCC cities. Enterprising preservationists in Dallas started the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority in 1983 and El Paso is now restoring PCCs for a downtown line. And there’s a spate of former PCC cities turning to modern streetcars to revitalize neighborhoods. MSR President Rick Laubscher was just in Cincinnati, where their new line is testing in advance of a planned September opening. (Note they kept a shade of yellow, as used on their PCCs, and they started numbering them from where their PCCs stopped.)

Cincinnati_-_last_month_of_streetcar_service_(1951)This renaissance of streetcars in PCC cities is a great story, and we’ll have it, with great details, exclusively for our Members in the next Inside Track, our quarterly member letter, due out in September. Join Market Street Railway now, and you’ll get our just-released newsletter with a colorful story on the vintage Powell Street cable car liveries, which we helped Muni bring back onto the line…and a story on a transformative time for transit in San Francisco 75 years ago, in 1941. If you’re intrigued by historic transit, you really need to join Market Street Railway.

1057 Pier 39

Did we mention that Muni’s Cincinnati tribute PCC, the 1057, known locally as “the bumblebee” for its stripes and yellow body,  is one of the most photographed cars in the fleet?  Join now!


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